Monday, 13 August 2012


Slightly more than two months ago we left Nairobi and went back home for a couple of months as the kids had summer holidays.Well,it was the dead of winter in Nairobi as it is below the Equator,but as it was summer in the United States Of America,the school naturally terms the holidays as such!Patriotic Indian,proud holder of the beautiful blue passport that I am,I would still be the first to admit that it was a wrench to leave Nairobi's naturally air conditioned environs.But the pull from home is always strong and so we said Kwaheri to Nairobi as we drove to the airport.
The word 'Kwaheri' in Kiswahili means 'Goodbye'!It is,indeed,a beautiful word,one that almost,by itself, brings a lump to the throat as one says it.Little did I know when I said Kwaheri to our temporary home,that I would be repeating it multiple times in my own town.
We landed in Mumbai in the early hours of the morning and then began our journey by road to my hometown Pune.It usually takes around four hours to reach home from Mumbai.One needs to cross the once formidable Western Ghats.But a decade ago a new road termed as the Expressway,was carved out from these very hills and today this journey is a breeze!'But at what cost?'I asked myself.Bare,brown,denuded hills,mercilessly hacked to carve the new road,stared down at us as we zipped along.They had been encompassed in ugly nets to prevent landslides,something that trees naturally do.I have been seeing them for the past ten years of course but they did come as a rude shock after Nairobi's green garbed hills.Then I remembered that as children we had travelled through these very hills and as the road used to climb towards the famous hill stations of Lonavala and Khandala,the very air used to take on a new,cool life.Not anymore.If we wanted a cooler temperature,all we had to do was to turn on the car's air conditioner.The convenience afforded by the new expressway had made me push this memory to the back of my mind.I said a silent Kwaheri to these sentinels of time,as they had been,not what we had reduced them to.....
When one lives in a particular city,one accepts the changes that occur on a day to day basis without really being pedantic about it.After all,the only thing constant in life is change!But when one has been away for ten months,and has to gulp down all those changes in one dose,it does come as a bit of a shock!In my case,it was the malls that left me dumbstruck!They had sprung up all over the city like mushrooms do after a refreshing shower of rain.And the sheer size of each one was intimidating.I have seen malls in some of the best and biggest cities of the world but never in my wildest dreams had I thought that this malaise would plague my hometown too.Of course it made my shopping that much easier,of course all the top brands were available under one roof,of course they had the most amazing sales and we landed up spending more than we ever would have had we visited our regular shops!But I had to say 'Kwaheri' to the personalized service,to the genuine smile on the owner's face when we came in to buy something and to asking,hopefully, for a discount,not having to make do with whatever was on offer!However well trained a mall's staff might be,the service remains impersonal!
Just a few decades ago Pune was a horse cart and bicycle city.In fact, even today most of our old roads are suitable only for these means of transport.Till even a couple of decades back,owning a car was unthinkable for most people.Today,the world's top car makers have moved home and hearth to Pune and are busy churning out monstrous cars which our roads are simply incapable of handling.The nouveau riche no longer drop names of  famous people,they drop cars names and are wont to declare that since their car is such and such make,they absolutely could not find a parking space big enough for it!Kwaheri to simple living and of course,to good manners too!
My biggest regret to date is the tearing down of Pune's beautiful bungalows.Though this process has been going on for the last many years,the pace suddenly appears to have accelerated,what with property prices in Pune being the highest ever recorded.Unscrupulous middlemen do not hesitate to con even their own kith and kin and convince them to sell ancestral property,all to make a fast buck!High rise buildings spring up almost overnight,where once a sprawling bungalow lay.In the process they have torn to shreds Pune's heritage and have destroyed it's old world charm.Kwaheri to those old stone bungalows which enshrined a thousand memories and whose walls had witnessed the lives of so many generations....
Roads are being widened to accommodate an ever growing population the world over.But it is only in my city that trees were relentlessly chopped down to broaden roads,without new ones ever being planted as replacements.Where once I could hear the shrill sounds of birds as they returned to their nests in the ancient tamarind and banyan trees at dusk,today the only sound is the cacophony of horns.Kwaheri to the lungs of a polluted city.How will we breathe now?
Come June and sure enough we would start hearing the pitter patter,not of little feet but of raindrops!Yes,once upon a time this month would herald the Monsoon.After a long,hot,dry summer a dehydrated city would eagerly wait to quench it's thirst.And never did the rain Gods disappoint us.For a city that depends on this life-giving rain to fill its dams and to have enough water supply for the whole year,the Monsoon is,indeed a lifeline.Heavy,steel grey clouds would descend on the city,just waiting to shed their load.Our old,Kolonial era classrooms would become terribly dark,giving us the perfect excuse to slam our books shut and declare loudly to the teacher that we could not see a thing!For of course the power supply was shut off at the first hint of rain!This year,it was Kwaheri to the rains as well!The Monsoon bypassed our city.Maybe the rain Gods do not bestow their favour on a city which has no trees and no old houses, where concrete buildings abound and humongous cars speed on the roads,each one larger than the last.Maybe the Gods,like me,prefer a time when things were simpler...
Kwaheri to the city I once knew or thought I did!It is a city,which,with it's burgeoning McDonald's and Pizza Huts,with it's Converse and Pepe outlets,fits my children like a glove but I remain an anachronism...
                                           A sight for sore eyes!
                                          These havens still exist!But for how long?
                                          All gone!
                                           Where are the birds?

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